Recap: Fallows interviewed a number of experts to determine where we are in the “war” on terrorism. In spite of the Bush Administration’s multiple blunders, at the moment our national security situation isn’t all that bad. As explained here, the chance of al Qaeda or another terrorist group pulling off another September 11 is fairly small.
The fly in the ointment is Iraq.
About half of the authorities I spoke with were from military or intelligence organizations; the others were academics or members of think tanks, plus a few businesspeople. Half were Americans; the rest were Europeans, Middle Easterners, Australians, and others. Four years ago, most of these people had supported the decision to invade Iraq. Although they now said that the war had been a mistake (followed by what nearly all viewed as a disastrously mismanaged occupation), relatively few said that the United States should withdraw anytime soon. The reasons most of them gave were the need for America to make good on commitments, the importance of keeping the Sunni parts of Iraq from turning into a new haven for global terrorists, and the chance that conditions in Iraq would eventually improve.
One, I worry about the expertise of anyone who supported the decision to invade Iraq. Two, this article was written before the recent Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. I strongly suspect that whatever slim chance there might have been of a not-too-terrible outcome in Iraq is now utterly gone. And there’s no doubt the neocons are hoping to use the conflict to take the war to Syria and Iran.
“If the United States stays in Iraq, it keeps making enemies,” Fallows writes. “If it leaves, it goes dragging its tail.” The war is hurting us so many ways, from the misallocation of resources, growing deficits, erosion of civil liberties, and loss of moral high ground. Maybe a little tail dragging is in order.
The final destructive response helping al-Qaeda has been Americaâ€™s estrangement from its allies and diminution of its traditionally vast â€œsoft power.â€ â€œAmericaâ€™s cause is doomed unless it regains the moral high ground,â€ Sir Richard Dearlove, the former director of Britainâ€™s secret intelligence agency, MI-6, told me. He pointed out that by the end of the Cold War there was no dispute worldwide about which side held the moral high groundâ€”and that this made his work as a spymaster far easier. â€œPotential recruits would come to us because they believed in the cause,â€ he said. A senior army officer from a country whose forces are fighting alongside Americaâ€™s in Iraq similarly told me that America â€œsimply has to recapture its moral authority.â€ His reasoning:
The United States is so powerful militarily that by its very nature it represents a threat to every other nation on earth. The only country that could theoretically destroy every single other country is the United States. The only way we can say that the U.S. is not a threat is by looking at intent, and that depends on moral authority. If youâ€™re not sure the United States is going to do the right thing, you canâ€™t trust it with that power, so you begin thinking, How can I balance it off and find other alliances to protect myself?
Americaâ€™s glory has been its openness and idealism, internally and externally. Each has been constrained from time to time, but not for as long or in as open-ended a way as now.
I combed through the Fallows article looking for a compelling argument to stay in Iraq, other than “the need for America to make good on commitments, the importance of keeping the Sunni parts of Iraq from turning into a new haven for global terrorists, and the chance that conditions in Iraq would eventually improve.” No luck. If improving the security situation in Iraq by force of American arms were still possible, then perhaps those would be arguments for staying in Iraq. I doubt it’s still possible, however.
If the United States were to begin pulling troops out of Iraq now, it would be interpreted correctly throughout the Middle East as an open admission of defeat — one that would likely lead fairly quickly to a complete American evacuation of the country. (Maybe not literally by landing helicopters on the roof of the embassy, but all in the region would understand the military reality that as the force grows smaller it will become progressively more dangerous to keep it in Iraq.)
Such an outcome could well force Iraq’s Shi’a political leaders to snuggle up even more tightly to Iran, if only as a matter of physical survival. If the full-scale civil war everyone seems to expect were to break out following an American withdrawal, Baghdad might even feel compelled to call in Iranian troops. At a minimum, Iran could be left with enormous influence over, if not outright control of, the Iraqi government and its security forces. Access to Iraqi air space would give Iran a direct resupply corridor to Syria, and, through Syria, to Hizbullah. A ground presence could provide Tehran with a direct ground link — call it the Ayatollah Khomeini Trail — assuming the Kurds could be bought off and/or intimidated, or the Sunni belt pacified (one shudders to think of what that might involve.)
Presto: one Shi’a crescent to go.
The Israel situation has, um, complicated it all:
Of course, it might not actually come to this — or if it did it might not come quickly. But the fact remains that the U.S. Army is the only significant force standing between Iran and it’s closest allies, and thus between Iran and Israel. If, as it now seems, Washington and Jerusalem both perceive Iran as the primary threat (and/or target for aggression) in the region, then there is no real distinction between America’s occupation of Iraq and Israel’s intended re-occupation of southern Lebanon. They are, in essence, both part of the next war.
It seems increasingly probable that that war will come soon — perhaps as early as November or December, although more likely next year. Israel’s failure to knock out Hizbullah with a rapid first strike has left the neocons even deeper in the hole, enormously ratcheting up the pressure to try to recoup all losses by taking the war to Damascus and Tehran.
In other words, it’s almost time for the ultimate “flight forward” — the one that finally pushes the Middle East into World War III.
You’ll like this — Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon,
The National Security Agency is providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires hundreds of missiles into northern Israel, according to a national security official with direct knowledge of the operation. President Bush has approved the secret program.
Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.
While the much-derided Condi Rice muddles ahead with something that might resemble a foreign policy if you squint and cross your eyes when you look at it, the neocons are actively trying to marginalize her. Condi mostly has been buying time for the Israelis to continue to bomb Lebanon,
But the neocon scenario extends far beyond that objective to pushing Israel into a “cleansing war” with Syria and Iran, says the national security official, which somehow will redeem Bush’s beleaguered policy in the entire region.
Of course, it’s desirable to get the American people on board with the program. Back to Billmon:
A number of wealthy pro-Israel donors, including Ronald Lauder, the perfume heir, have given millions to something called the Israel Project — a “public education” cum PR cum grassroots lobbying machine — to fund a program specifically aimed at building support for a military strike on Iran. You can’t turn on Fox News these days without finding James Woolsey or Newt Gingrich or Bill Kristol or some other pro-Israel mouthpiece demanding war with Syria and/or Iran, and painting it as the only way to stop the rockets falling on Haifa.
Billmon writes that even if the Dems finally speak out against Iraq, he predicts they will remain loyal spear carriers for Israel.
I don’t want rockets falling on Haifa, and I believe most Americans don’t want rockets falling on Haifa. But at some point the American people need to have a serious discussion about how far we’re willing to go, and how much of our own security we’re willing to risk, to keep rockets from falling on Haifa. And, especially after more than three years in Iraq, I think many Americans could be ready to establish some boundaries.
It’s true that the latest Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll shows that Americans think recent Israeli actions in Lebanon are justified, 59 to 28 percent, with 13 percent unsure. 50 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should remain aligned with Israel, although a hefty minority, 44 percent, think the U.S. should be neutral. None of the poll questions mentioned risk or cost, however. None of them asked Would you still support Israel if you knew that Israel’s actions are making the security situation in Iraq even worse? If it means drawing the United States into war with Iran and Syria? If it means inspiring new and better armed groups of jihadists to attack the U.S.? Are you willing to risk your life, or the lives of your loved ones, to keep rockets from falling on Haifa?
Of course, we’re not going to have that conversation, except perhaps on the blogosphere.
The President of the United States is lost in space. The Vice President and Secretary of Defense are delusional. The Secretary of State is incompetent. Republicans in Congress are yes men. A few Dems are finally standing up against the last war — the one started three years ago — but it’s unlikely they’ll stand in the way of the next war.
James Fallows’s article — again, written before the Israel-Lebanon conflict began — ends on a hopeful note. He says this is an ideal time to declare victory in the “war on terror” and launch realistic and practical policies for long-term security and anti-terrorism efforts. Too bad that won’t happen.